Manipur Besieged

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In these troubled times, it is difficult not to be reminded of the stand taken by moderate Muslims, such as Maulana Azad, to oppose the Partition of Indian on the eve of the country attaining independence from British colonisers. As most of us are familiar with now, Azad’s decision to not go along with the Muslim League was not so much an opposition to the idea of Pakistan per se, but one dictated by an enlightened self-interest. While he had little to say against the contention that Muslims would be happy to be on their own in Pakistan, his concern was for those Muslims who would remain in India, either by choice or for the lack of means to migrate to Pakistan. Muslims undivided would have still been a minority in an undivided sub-continental India, but it would have been a significantly larger minority, therefore not left at the mercy of the majority Hindus. Other than the decimation in number that would result from Partition, he also reasoned like any other moderate and rational thinker that it would not be easy for Muslims who remained behind in India to win back the confidence of the country. In hindsight we know Azad’s politics of resisting Partition proved futile, but nobody can deny the future that he envisioned for Indian Muslim has been prophetic.

This thought is especially relevant in the wake of the recent statement by a Rajya Sabha MP from Nagaland, Khekiho Zhimomi, that Manipur should be bifurcated into two Union Territories, the hills for the tribal communities, and the valley for the Meiteis. Outer Manipur Lok Sabha MP, Thangso Baite, rather tentatively also gave his nod, with an incoherent statement which implied this could be a solution to Manipur’s current problem but pending further public consultations. As for the Zhimomi, he has little business in the matter, though we must thank him for his concern despite his raw and uncouth tone of ridicule in his reference to the valley districts, fit only for internet trolls, an ugly and mindless species whose population is multiplying like virus on various social networking sites. Baite probably was doing a balancing act, owing allegiance to both the state he represents in Parliament and his community that reduced his home to ashes in an extended explosion of fury against the three allegedly anti-tribal bills, whose officially stated intents are to regulate influx of migrants into the state. He has since clarified that he was misquoted by the reporter who asked for his opinion on the matter. Whatever the case was, the truth is, there is today a campaign for such a bifurcation of the hills and the valley of Manipur, so rather than sweep the matter under the carpet, it needs to be elevated to a forum of meaningful discourse, and resolved.

Dividing Manipur into two Union Territories for obvious reasons is unlikely to happen. If the situation does to come to such a pass, under the present circumstance, it can have disastrous and long lasting consequences of the kind Azad feared. For this reason if not anything else, there is an element of irresponsibility in those who insist this should be. What can instead be thought of is a comprehensive autonomy model for the hills as well as the valley. The hills for instance can have the 6th Schedule ADCs if they so wish and a matching autonomy model can be thought of for the valley in consultation with its public. We for one no longer think it should be a 6th Schedule type of autonomy for the valley which is already under modern land tenure system. We are sure nobody would also like to revert to rule by customary law after witnessing all the vigilante and mob justice which often put the valley districts under their frenzied grip. Everybody, we are also sure are happy with modern legal jurisprudence too, just as they have internalised the working of the modern land revenue system under the MLR&LR Act 1960. What can be instead thought of is the reopening and renegotiation of the Merger Agreement 1949 to ask for autonomy such as those that went to Kashmir at the time of its own merger with India. If the hills want to be part of this, fine, otherwise it can be the valley’s new autonomy structure. The Manipur’s Merger Agreement was signed in four days of coercive negotiations with the former kingdom’s ruler under house arrest in his summer home in Shillong, the then capital of Assam. The agreement contains virtually nothing of substance, and King Bodhchandra can hardly be blamed for this, for he was not given the benefit of legal advisers or expert counsels in those four traumatic days in captivity. By contrast, the NSCN(IM) peace negotiation has been happening for 18 years under guidance of the best of legal experts from all over the world, and yet a treaty has still not materialised. The injustice of 1949 is obvious and everybody in India and the world would, or at least should, understand the desire for reopening of this chapter to purge the oppressive memory of this sorry episode.

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